Why Investing In A More Mobile Workforce Makes Sense

The digital revolution has radically transformed what the traditional office looks like. Acres of beige or putty-colored cubicles, like the herds of buffalo that ranged across the American west, are long-gone, replaced by a mobile, distributed workforce who is no longer tethered to a central location.

“Work,” said Matt Kaplan, Vice President of Products at LogMeIn, ”is no longer a place you go to. Rather, the workplace is defined by the tools you use, wherever you are.”

This distribution of digital labor is no mere trend; it is the future of work in an increasingly knowledge-based economy, and those companies currently investing in it are at the vanguard of the changing landscape of work.

At the core of this change is a fundamental shift in what work and productivity ultimately means.

Indeed, the rise of mobile technology has brought the very notion of work back to an almost pre-Industrial Revolution paradigm. Before factories rose and blackened city skies across Europe, the cottage industry dominated working life; weaving, spinning, sewing, and smithing were all done at home. In short, the distributed workforce is nothing new, but what is new is the degree to which companies the world over are embracing it.

Early in the 21st century, a few forward-thinking companies began to question the reasoning behind centralized office work. What, they asked, is the value of having everyone in one place when such a thing is no longer necessitated by technology? What was once a trickle became a flood, and now companies large and small are embracing the concept of a mobile, distributed workforce.

In simplest terms, a mobile workforce lowers overhead. No more sprawling offices. No more vast IT infrastructures. Gone too is the need to settle for local talent that might not measure up to the task. This last point is perhaps the biggest selling point for companies today: when the need for a specific skill set arises, there’s no need to truck someone in from elsewhere. If your New York-based company needs a copywriter, a UX designer, or an AJAX developer with a very narrow, very specific skill set, that person can work just as well from Birmingham or Kansas City or Seattle. No relocation costs, no stress, no adjustment time. Employers can add new talent to their workforce with a simple exchange of emails.

That, of course, is the macro version. In the more immediate sense, a mobile workforce is one empowered with the benefits of mobile technology. The simplest examples of this are managers who spend little of their time sitting at a desk. Instead, they ping-pong between meetings or checking up on employees. Their mobile device — likely a smartphone — is glued to their hand throughout the day, and the ability to be productive with that device is key to increasing their productivity and giving them time back throughout the day.

This ability to perform small tasks during bits of downtime is a major selling point in the concept of a mobile workforce.

“A complex task is simply a large set of simple tasks that must take place in some order,” wrote Wyatt Jenkins, Vice President of Product at Shutterstock. “If you add ‘found time’ to this, users will divide complex tasks on a PC and tasks that can be moved to other portable devices for efficiency.”

In sum, small, quick tasks like answering emails or performing administrative duties can be done on the fly from a mobile device, enabling the user to reclaim time and mobility by unchaining them from their desk.

Adding mobile workers to your company doesn’t have to be difficult. Advanced planning is key when making the transition. First, prepare your existing employees for the shift. Communicate the advantages and enlist their input when developing a mobile management structure. Set clear, measurable goals with employees so they always know what is expected of them. Finally, invest in the right tools so employees always feel connected to you even if they don’t have their own office at the company’s headquarters. Some examples: Skype offers videoconferencing, low-cost internet calls and screen-sharing. Basecamp helps teams manage scheduling, to-dos, and file-sharing over the Web.

For workers and employers alike, the mobile revolution represents a sea change in productivity and the very nature of work itself. Work can be performed from anywhere, freeing workers from the tethers of a commute or finding day care for their children. Employers benefit from lower overhead, greater productivity, and heightened morale from a labor force that no longer sees work as a mere place to go, but as an integral part of a life lived on their terms.

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